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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 15:27 GMT 16:27 UK
The business of athletics
By Phil Harlow

Sport and business are not always easy bedfellows. Just ask any passing Leeds United fan.

Great Britain 400m runner Nicola Sanders
Could the likes of Nicola Sanders help bring the glory days back?

But British athletics is hoping the two can hit it off in some style, having put the ailing sport in the hands of two businessmen.

Ed Warner and Niels de Vos have been brought in as UK Athletics' chairman and chief executive for their financial acumen rather than their running ability.

"It's not even a case of should you run sports on the same lines as a business - you must," Warner, on a PR offensive ahead of Sunday's first Grand Prix of the season in Glasgow, told BBC Sport.

"In business you're measured by profits and dividends, and we have to be comfortable being judged in terms of number of finalists and medallists at major championships.

"They could get rid of us if we don't deliver."

In recent years, British athletics fans can only be grateful that they had invested merely their hopes - rather than any hard-earned cash - in their underperforming heroes. Shares in British athletics would not have been a wise investment.

Isolated successes for the likes of Paula Radcliffe in recent years have failed to hide the general decline in British fortunes since their 1990s heyday.

Just seven athletes made the final of their event at the 2005 World Championships.

Hopes of a brighter future have been raised after Britain finished top of the medal table at the European Indoors in March, although the general quality of the athletes on show should encourage caution.

Nevertheless, Warner was keen to emphasise that the new regime was not all about pounds and pence, or finalists and medals, as the sport builds up to its Holy Grail of the 2012 London Olympics.

"We compete in a world of scarce resources, competing with other sports for athletes of all standards and ages," he said.

"If we run the sport as an amateurish club, it will dwindle over time.

UK Athletics chairman Ed Warner
Neither Niels de Vos or I are player-managers

UKA chairman Ed Warner

"But to my mind my job has always been divided in two between the amateur game and the elite squad.

"We have to deliver on both counts. For the elite side of things we're measured in medals, but we have to get the other side of things right as well.

"Athletics is based on the hard work of volunteers so we have to be very sensitive about how it looks and feels to them at their local clubs."

Warner said British fans should not be concerned by the lack of top level athletics experience at the helm of UKA.

"We couldn't do it without a performance team that was absolutely steeped in the sport," said Warner, who has run seven marathons and is a member of the Fittleworth Flyers running club.

"In terms of football, neither Niels or I are player-managers.

"The leading clubs tend to be owned and run by businessmen but they appoint football people to run that side of things. The same is true for us."

Warner, who was appointed in January, admitted he had been unimpressed with the state of UKA's finances when he took on the role in January, and said there was still more "boring" work to be done.

But with a contract requiring only 20 days a year, what can he realistically expect to achieve?

"In reality I'm doing about a day a week," he said.

"You've got to compare it to the chairmanship of a public company, where the vast majority have part-time chairmen.

"My job is to deal with grand strategy, hold the managers to account and look after some of the key relationships: the BBC, (main sponsor) Norwich Union, UK Sport, (minister of sport) Richard Caborn and so on.

"We didn't have a chairman before - David Moorcroft basically combined both roles and it was thought that he was overstretched so really people should look at me as new resources."

Warner is convinced that the future really is bright with the World Championships just a few weeks away, and the Beijing Olympics fast approaching.

"The atmosphere among the squad on the night before the European Indoors started was fantastically motivating for me as the new chairman," he said.

"It sounds a bit cheesy, but it really was uplifting for me to see how enthused and determined the team was."

With the 2012 Olympics as an ever-present reminder of British athletics' need to up its game, Warner knows the clock is ticking as he attempts to get the sport back in the black.

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24 Aug 06 |  Athletics
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05 Apr 06 |  Athletics


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